GARTEL'S SLASHERS: A Suite of Talking Heads

Laurence Gartel: The Digital Underground


Though trained as an artist from youth, Gartel came up in the mid 70's from his native Bronx, mingling with both mainstream art and underground personalities. His pioneering work in digital fine art is rooted in his apprenticeship with mentor videographer, Nam June Paik. Graffiti artist, Keith Haring was his classmate. For years Gartel struggled, knocking on many doors in the artworld to find acceptance and validation for his new medium, with mixed responses.

In the beginning of his arc there was still no PC computer, and he had to invent procedures that quickly drew the attention of established artists. Thus, the young Gartel, now the godfather of digital fine art, wound up teaching American master Warhol how to create digital secrets on the old Amiga computers before there was software for effects.


Random Order Revisited:
Collage Jumps the Canvas to Multimedia Art
(The Multimedia Art of Laurence Gartel)

By Iona Miller, 5/2004

Let us imagine the anima mundi neither above the world encircling it as a divine and remote emanation of spirit, a world of powers, archetypes, and principles transcendent to things, nor within the material world as its unifying panpsychic life-principle. Rather let us imagine the anima mundi as that particular soul-spark, the seminal image, which offers itself through each thing in its visible form. Then anima mundi indicates the animated possibilities presented by each event, as it is, its sensuous presentation as face bespeaking its interior image--in short, its availability to imagination, its presence as a psychic reality. Not only animals and plants ensouled as in the Romantic vision, but soul is given with each thing; God-given things of nature and man-made things of the street.
~ James Hillman

Robert Rauschenberg originally legitimized collage as a valid artform with his curatorial manifestos, The Art of Assemblage (1961) and Random Order (1963). He revisioned many presuppositions about art and older notions of the avant-garde in his own non-nihilistic oppositional strain. In fact, his notion of “random order” prophetically prefigures the scientific discovery of Chaos Theory by decades.

At his most ambitious, Rauschenberg hoped technology would allow him to create a machine to integrate spectators into its functioning, reactions setting it in motion transforming the participants. This is multimedia interactivity, with feedback and feedforward loops. He wanted to educate the predictable public to risk, including in the realm of sexuality. He wanted to reflect and modify the desires of the viewer.

Many of the goals of today’s multimedia “Know-Brow” artists are similar, aiming at embodied experience and pushing those insights further as CG images become more compelling. The larger question remains, “What does it mean to be human?” American film and video critic Gene Youngblood once wrote that “all art is experimental, or it isn’t art.” Innovation brings radically new frames of reference or discards frames entirely.

Indeed the new materials artists use today have radically transformed art, and our globally-linked planet has brought the plurality of artistic forms, the diversity of styles, the ways in which statements about art can be formed and framed to the surface. Within this we find that the wide array of technical practices, this virtual reality theatre being one example, now make it easy to see that technology has had a tremendous impact on how we engage with art, how we engage with the question of what art is, and how we view the many ways artists exploit technology in our time.“New tools, of course, have always resulted in new forms and, in the largest sense, we can say that technological innovations add imaginative possibilities to the artistic toolbox. When we place the results into a mix that includes social, cultural, political, and scientific contributions we find the enlarged vantage points new technologies offer are even more intriguing. “Perhaps as striking as the number of ways in which artists use technology is that forms of experimentation, like artistic goals, vary widely today. Given this it is not surprising that, sometimes, technologically informed work simply excites our senses and, at other times, even an educated viewer may wonder how best to address a work he or she simply does not understand. There is also the challenge of engaging with work that invites us to be participants rather than passive spectators. And, of course, work presented in more traditional ways, so to speak, continues to raise traditional questions about what art is. “One might ask: Is it the visceral quality of a work that excites us or will we more fully experience an artist’s intention if we read the work as a text and interpret the levels of meaning embedded in the project? Then, again, perhaps an interpretation based on ferreting out meaning compromises key elements that might be optically-centered or intended to emotionally-charge our experience?” ~Amy Ione, 2000,

Philosophically defined concepts such as ideology, aesthetics, meaning, emotion, embodied or situated cognition, complexity, anticipation, inspiration, signification, psychophysical coordination, emergentism, depiction, focal-point conflict, and other elusive models fit into the well-honed categories, bracketing themes such as picture organization and gestalt, metaphor, interpretation, subjectivity, enculturation, neural processing, language and history.

They depend crucially on our psychophysical constraints (compensation, accentuation, contrast, occlusion, dissonance, blur, grain, codes, projection, distortion, denotation, etc.) and enabling of our sensorimotor apparatus. They also depend on the ecological and sociocultural environment in which our apprehending and productive capacities come into being. Rhythm perception and production involve a complex, whole-body experience.

The avant-garde attempted to break down the false division between “art” and “life.” This medium has morphed again, and the message of the art and science of depiction morphs with it. The generative approach is multidisciplinary. Insightful connections and correlaries are described, not truths or explanations. Collage, montage, and assemblage have gone digital -- jumped the juxtaposed canvas into graffiti, into digital fine art, into art music as sampling and into animation, which draws from the entirety of art history stringing together its pastiche.

Early digital films of the1990’s such as “The Mind’s Eye,” “Beyond the Mind’s Eye,” and “The Gate,” are good examples of the later. Some of these vignettes draw explicitely from art history, using works of Picasso, allusions to Dali, Magritte, etc. They also draw on the genre of science-art. Their immediate predecesors were computer-generated dynamics, such as “Fractal Fantasy”, and a host of other mathematically driven animations like “Voyage To the Planets”.

Multimedia with its efficiency of rendering takes us beyond the aesthetic block of static art that hangs on the wall and becomes p(art) of our lives. Home studios and user-friendly programs and interfaces now allow individual digital fine artists, such as Laurence Gartel and filmmaker Bob Judd, to produce their own audio-visual visions on DVD. Trial and error process focus the artist’s eye on the current state of he image and his/her reactions to it. Trained image makers know what they need and choose the relevant tool.

Art history language is translative and descriptive, not generative. Validity has standards, but they become outmoded periodically, and must be revisioned to prefigure inevitable transformations. The aesthetics of juxtaposition is fundamental; it is a primary modality of simultaneous display that can either 1) temporarily shock, negate, or scandalize, (cultural value); or 2) lead toward lasting aesthetic and symbolic tensions (aesthetic and psychological value).

Juxtaposition can shock, surprise or inform. However, once the shock circuit [artifact of the DaDa era] is closed, the effect will not repeat again in the same individual. There is a world of difference between threat and shock or lasting aesthetic effect. Primary tropes tend to characterize the creations of those who work in this assemblage modality, revealing their mental shorthand, their private symbolic and iconographic lexicons.

The second form ignites the potential of disparate elements in a new ‘force field.’ It becomes a ‘strange attractor’ around which our eye and consciousness can circulate and recirculate. This is one form of the iconography of high art, Rauschenberg effectively argued. His was a challenging balance between aesthetic signification and spectatorial reception.

Collage can seem random or purposeful, assembling symbols or elements that “want to live with one another.” Some artists just ‘know’ what wants to live together, what is aesthetically pleasing and psychologically congruent or challenging, what juxtaposition still has something to say beyond simple pattern saturation. Minimalism, or classical juxtapositions of opposites, is too sparse for such rich, complex vision.

Rauschenberg continually rejected an aesthetic of nihilism, shock and negation through his whole career preferring complete esthetic freedom, eschewing art and historical battles already waged by predecesors. His works changed focus, evoked multiplicity, and multiple perspectives. He preferred the unresolved.

Neo-dada attitudes of the pre- and post WWII era have carried over into post Postmodern underground art with multimedia performance artists, who are socially disengaged or culturally and politically frustrated. Even this seemingly negative response to pain seeks to engage with “process” and “life” which is not separate from “art.” But, by definition, much of this “art”, often identified with the Fluxus movement, is not lasting, frequently consisting of artifacts or ephemera.

These edge and extreme artists are idiosyncratic and narcissistic, but generally not socially toxic, anarchistic or apolitical ~ but quite political and often spiritual in their statements, rhetoric, and performances. They have broken free of the museum and the artworld and found their own validation. But provocation can’t last indefinitely.

The history of the avant garde is discontinuous, turbulent, nonlinear “ chaotic, just like its art. All of its metaphors strongly suggest the randomly punctuated rhythms of Chaos Theory. Its reference points reinforce this description, reiterating complex feedback loops, strange attractors, and producing big effects [such as radical cultural and political effects] from minor perturbations.

Laurence Gartel: The Digital Underground

Though trained as an artist from youth, Gartel came up in the mid 70’s from his native Bronx, mingling with both mainstream art and underground personalities. His pioneering work in digital fine art is rooted in his apprenticeship with mentor videographer, Nam June Paik. Graffiti artist, Keith Haring was his classmate. For years Gartel struggled, knocking on many doors in the artworld to find acceptance and validation for his new medium, with mixed responses.

In the beginning of his arc there was still no PC computer, and he had to invent procedures that quickly drew the attention of established artists. Thus, the young Gartel, now the godfather of digital fine art, wound up teaching American master Warhol how to create digital secrets on the old Amiga computers before there was software for effects.

"Collage is story telling. The puzzle pieces are all elements that make up the whole. One picture does not describe the story. Success of a good artwork has a succinct message that is embedded with multiple views. Thus each picture is carefully chosen, and carefully placed. It is the placement that makes someone a true genius of story telling. Place an element in the wrong place, wrong size, it sends a completely incorrect message. As in music if the sound is placed in the wrong location, the score has no order, and thus the music sounds awful. Same with visuals. If the collaged item is put in a position that doesn't make sense it is hard on the eyes. Collage should have a flow, moving from one part of the picture to another. Looking at the over all image from a distance you see a sea of color. That color should take you on a visual journey. Moving the eye from one location to another. Again, like a ballerina moving from one spot on the dance floor to another, the movement should be graceful. I would tend to think, that if a collage artist couldn't write something like the above, then they have no sense of why they are developing the pictures that they do. It would then be completely random with no thought pattern whatsoever. What's happening in art today, is that visual skill is getting lost, and good taste is slowly diminishing. The untrained eye prevails just like the unskilled palate of a wine taster maneuvers his/her way down the spirits aisle of their favorite liquor store."
LAURENCE GARTEL, Comments on Collage / Montage, May 20, 2004

He has constantly expanded his repertoire of skills keeping pace with the digital revolution and has now returned to his roots with digital movies that are also an acoustic experience. The new medium plays in home computers, DVD players, or stereos. His stimulating visual imagery is combined with musical mixes by DJ’s from around the world, such as DJ Laboratory from New York and DJ Alura from Chicago. "GARTEL: DANCE / TRANCE and other LIVING THINGS" DVD is scheduled for release in Fall 2004.

As a photographer, he sees subcultures offering a unique opportunity for the visual artist, whether a chance to historically document the rapidly changing culture of fetish, the music scene, the South Beach club scene, and even world-class motorcycle rallies. Gartel’s Fetish series is not as heavily collaged as some of his past series, but are still in that genre. His work has often been semi autobiographical, emerging from his experiences.

Gartel: The Art Of Fetish (2003) - “A full-length documentary film about an artist's journey into the fetish world. Long-time international digital artist and photographer, Gartel has taken a gr! ea! t leap into a very intriguing subculture - FETISH. His obsession and fascination with the people, the practices and the lifestyle led him to shoot over 20,000 digital pictures with his camera, from which he created a series of very provocative artworks. But the other side of this documentary is the people we meet along the way. This documentary gives the viewer a very rare entrance into a world that is often kept behind closed doors. Witness revealing interviews, shocking "performance" footage, irreverent and candid moments with the our subjects, at home, at fetish clubs, at parties as they delve into the activities that bring them pleasure - food fetishes, medical play and human suspension to name a few. This documentary is packed with visual stimulation, eroticism, music, enthralling people & the art of GARTEL.”

For Gartel, these images and the explorations he has while he captures them are all grist for the mill. His unique understanding of the history of art informs and infuses his work with an eye trained for impact and meaning. It has punch, capturing each unique moment at the climax of a tale. Every picture tells a story, as the saying goes, and his latest digital story is ‘Slashers’, which repeats Gartel’s commitment to collage, new digital forms, and multimedia.

Gartel’s’s ‘Slashers’ ~ Cut Ups from Lotus Land

The first question anyone asks an artist about his/her work is: Where did the inspiration come from? Where did the ideas emanate from? So in looking at the overall series, one might inquire: "What happened to you?" (Hahaha.....) Nothing really...but I believe that an artist's work, if he/she is in tune with the world, or is sensitive to people's current emotions, depicts the state of affairs that is currently taking place. It is not for nothing that Andy Warhol depicted Jackie Kennedy or Marilyn Monroe, or the Watts Riots. It is the same as Otto Dix painting the horrors of both World Wars and just as valid as Bruegel's depiction of peasant life during the Renaissance. Truth is, every artist of any great measure says in his own personal style what is taking place in society.Alas, what IS going on in the world right now? History will look back and see this series and look at our culture, asking what is going on? - A cyber world for one, where people are one face over the internet, and another face in reality. It can also be two faces in reality as well. America's President George Bush saying one thing, but things happening behind the scenes. Are we not slashing faces in reality, invading a country and tearing apart their culture? What is fact and what is real? "SLASHERS" illustrates the answer of people that have been lied to. So the psychology here is NOT what is going on with me the artist personally, but reactionary, to what is taking place in the world. This is first and foremost. The art is an emotional out pouring of false images, facades, and sense of isolationism. Like a normal "GARTEL" work, it is filled with interaction with so many puzzle pieces, like all my collage,s talking and communicating to one another. Here in "SLASHERS" the subject is completely alone. Beckoning for reply. Talking outward. It is indeed a sad state of affairs, that we live in a time when there is no sense of fellow mankind support and comfort. We needed a tragedy for people to ban together. Almost three years later since 9/11, the reverse has taken place. There is no sense of community but only of solitude.”Looking at the art, there is pathos. All that might have been beautiful is now torn apart, in a post war view of devastation. Each face could represent a country, a city, a community, an individual. Once magnificent, now disfigured and taking on a new persona. Beauty and ugly, but the look of desperation and desire. They each have a voice. Living in the region of flora and fauna, and perhaps the unofficial "Riviera of America," no one would ever feel the penetration of this pain. All appears to be beautiful, elegant and pristine. High rise buildings with marble lobbies, oak wood appointments, and magnificent furnishings cloud our view of what's behind the door to the rest of the world. The opulence of wealth is abundant in the area I am surrounded by. "SLASHERS" would be considered an "amusement" for no other reason. To the rest of the world, it is a flag raised, in the form of understanding the human condition outside this lovely peninsula called Florida.”

“Everywhere the blades turn, in every thought the butchery, and it is raw where I wander; but you hide me in the shelter of your name, and you open the hardness to tears
.” ~Leonard Cohen, ‘Book of Mercy’

Lucio Fontana slashed his first canvas with a razor in 1958, only a couple of years after the birth of Laurence Gartel, . Fontana's raw, vigorous, and richly expressive works overturned the conventions of art and challenged existing ideas about the role of the artist in the age of rapid technological development. Gartel has done the same for the 21st century geist; he has “returned with a vengeance,” staging a bloodless coup with his ‘Slashers Series’ that opens new multimedia artistic territory.

Fontana’s gold slashed and perforated canvases echo the alchemical quest of transforming lead into gold, everyday neurosis into deeper spiritual authenticity. Gold is inherently appealing and seductive, but spiritual gold remains even more elusive than monetary success for most of us. It lies not in our famous names, our house and gardens, our vain accomplishments or escapist travels, our garages, our designer labels, or brainwashed tastes and opinions. In this quest, we cannot dig deep enough. The alleged surface is gashed not with senseless Postmodern violence but with surgical precision that seeks to release that which would be born anew.

Like Fontana, the prolific Gartel is driven by the spirit of exploration, constantly questioning and extending the boundaries of his own practice, his own digital media, confounding expectations, provoking and amazing an ever-growing audience. Gold, suggesting richness and light, implies a votive or spiritual aura. But it is just one color in Gartel’s bold digital palette of living light. Real inspiration comes in an unexpected instant as a mysterious flowering after silent incubation ~ a stab in the dark that surrepetitiously adds multifaceted dimensions underlying the screen presence.

What Futurist Fontana did to breakthrough to underlying artistic concepts, digital pioneer Gartel does to break through the thin veneer of human personality, trapped as it is in its 21st century cocoon. The deeper, unseen dimension of authentic personality lies comatose, buried beneath the commercial trappings or armour of the social mask or persona, which ‘protects’ us from our own HUMANITY ~ from that which would cut through our spiritual materialism, exposing our tender cores, which we guard and adorn so zealously with the ‘lead’ of surgical falsifications, programmed mediocrity, and fashionable conformity.

Moving beyond his photographic investigations, Gartel slashes through these spiritually vacuous, bloodless corpses -- “Lotus Eaters”, somnambulistic consumers mesmerized by the fool’s gold of earthly treasures. GARTEL’s ‘Slashers’ mirror the internal splits in our psyches, the wounds society inflicts on us by confronting us with unresolvable cognitive dissonance. We are caught between the Scylla and Charybdis of a clashing call to a higher humanity and the vortex of crass consumerism born of global cultural imperialism that has become our true religion, imposed by a heartless media machine and pathologically-driven peer pressures ~ the very opposite of integration, wholeness, authenticity.

Gartel’s visual syntax slashes into the last unexploited space left, the interior of our humanity where we keep our deepest secrets and desires, opening a way back to soul that cannot come from the contemplation of vacant eyes. He invites us -- with an uncharacteristic minimalism -- to look below the surface, beyond the snares of entrapment in the so-called “good life,” such as his own in sunny Southern Florida. Does he seek to awaken us from the persistent dream of conformity, of pointless striving, of meaningless rage, of despair over a materialistic world that has stopped evolving and is heading toward the Abyss?

Gartel’s bloodless slashing is not malicious, but revelatory. Neither theatrical or farcical, his aggression is not toward the canvas nor the subjects. It reflects not the violence of Gartel’s soul, but his compassion. It is not a displaced attack against himself, but an attack on outmoded form. He brings the hyper-material playfulness characteristic of all his work to this new collection. In a multimedia twist, Gartel’s societal portraits ‘speak for themselves’ both figuratively and literally. The images seem contained by the screen but their deep cover (underlying ground) contains the intensity of the whole world.

In this way he is also revealing a metaphor of global cyberculture, where image is everything. Net life has added another dimension to our existence ~ the “chip body.” Slashers are not portraits of ‘real’ people, but archetypal embodiments. “Our double sided cyber/human selves come across the internet, revealing our second selves. Perhaps Gartel’s genius lies not only in seeing it and feeding it back to us with a scintillating mobius of morphing imagery, but also in living it.

We decorate our egos so they look a little nicer. We become secretly superior though, in fact, parasitical. The spiritual ego is subtle, cunning, superior, secretive. It develops because ego has to live somewhere until it dissolves. Authenticity and playfulness are the antidote. Authenticity and playfulness give you the space to face yourself as you are and to confront your darkness and internal splits consciously. This conscious self-encounter brings purity indirectly, without the hypocritical burden of a spiritually pure ego.

Gartel’s work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, Joan Whitney Payson Museum, Long Beach Museum of Art, Princeton Art Museum, PS 1, Norton Museum and in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of American History and the Bibliotheque Nationale. His biography for his pioneering efforts is included in "Who's Who," "Who's Who in the East," "Who's Who in America," "Who's Who in American Art," and "Who's Who in the World."

Gartel: Artist, Photographer, Filmmaker
As new media has come on the scene, Gartel has stayed on the leading edge. His works have jumped the canvas into documentary film making, and art music DVDs. Today's digital editing studios allow an artist almost complete control over his subject matter.

Since he always knew he wanted to be an artist, GARTEL became a keen observer of people and the human condition. Both early life in NYC, and now greater Miami have provided fertile territory for his artistic exploration.

Iona Miller, Art Writer
Transdisciplinarian, Iona Miller is a writer, hypnotherapist, webdesigner, and multimedia artist. A talented force of nature, her works range from future science to emergent healing and metaphysics, but her specialty is exceptional human development and creativity. Being a futurist, therapist and a science-artist brings a unique POV to her insightful writing.

Iona Miller Homepage

Go to Photo6 Page of this site to see the SLASHERS GALLERY, though there are more unposted.


SLASHER Daddy's Gurl
Produced with a variety of digital techniques and scanner art.

The exterior or XXXterior often doesn't match the interior of personality. The persona hides the truth, perhaps even from oneself. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED (c)2005 Web by IO